Why I gave my kids a 'default name'

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

I suffer from the eternal child name fumble. You know, the one where you cycle through the list of siblings, uncles, aunties and pets before you call the child by their correct name?

The problem

It goes like this.

"Andrew!" (husband's name)

"Reuben! (wrong child)

"Lucas!" (other wrong child)

"Milo!" (the dog)

"Alan!" (uncle)

"Blast!" (*pause*)

*more pausing*


"Harry!" (finally, the correct name)

How much mental energy do we as parents, expend every day in exactly this way? So so much energy. It also contributes to feelings of not being on top of anything, let alone the basics, like remembering your own kid's name. Where are we at if we can't even remember a name we spent months deciding on for the most important humans in our lives?

And forget any reprimanding power when you succumb to the name fumble mid-scold. They totally know they have the psychological advantage once you begin cycling through names that aren't theirs, the smile of satisfaction spreading over their faces as they realise your position is futile.

The answer

I have the answer, and it works. We have three children and my husband and I one day, many years ago, sat down in exasperation after several name fumbles in a row. He all of a sudden blurted, "We should have called them all Trevor," and a light bulb went on in both our heads.

We started calling them all Trevor when we could feel a name fumble coming on, or in the midst of one. And they all started answering to it.

My friend who has an only child posted about this very thing the other day on Facebook - even parents of onlies aren't spared this affliction - saying the kid was called by his uncles' names before she got to his actual name.

Another responder said her kids are constantly called "Cashew", which is that family's dog's name.

Think about it - if you have a default name to use for all of the children, you get a 100 per cent strike rate. They all answer, you tell the target child what you want done, then you also have the others' attention to capitalise upon in the moment. It's win-win.

The science

The phenomenon according to a journal article published in Memory & Cognition in 2016, is called "misnaming" and occurs when people use names from the same social group, to misname people who are very well known to them.

Researchers surveyed 1700 people five times, and determined that misnaming happens in families, friendship and work social groups and similar-sounding names such as Serena and Selina are fair game within the latter groups.

One of the journal authors, Duke University psychology and neuroscience professor David Rubin said, "It's a cognitive mistake we make, which reveals something about who we consider to be in our group. It's not just random."

And pets? Rubin says the study revealed something special about humans' relationship to canines in particular. Respondents were not likely to misname a child with the cat's name.

Study co-author and Ph.D. student Samantha Deffler said, "I'll preface this by saying I have cats and I love them. But our study does seem to add to evidence about the special relationship between people and dogs."

She added, "Also, dogs will respond to their names much more than cats, so those names are used more often. Perhaps because of that, the dog's name seems to become more integrated with people's conceptions of their families."

So there you have it; the problem, its cause, and a bonus suggestion about how to bypass this universal parenting problem.

Go forth and get that default name - it worked for us.